The recent call for independence by Senator Jason Hayward at the Labour Day rally should not be a cause for alarm or surprise — and it was to be expected. There has always been a sector of labour that has wanted independence. They are not alone because there is also a large sector of the independence pragmatist that crosses the racial divide who, under the proper environment, constitutional construct and circumstance would also support independence.
It is not a clean separation between those who favour and those who do not, but whenever there is a “unilateral” approach towards the subject, the overwhelming sentiments are typically against.
Paradoxically, Bermuda has a history of stepping out well ahead of its contemporaries whenever it comes down to its self-interest. However, the surge of independence of the former colonies in the early 1960s in Africa and the Caribbean were conflated with the issue of race and subjugation. Much of the thrust for independence in Bermuda was spurred by, if not related to, events in the Caribbean.
The topic of independence need not be a subject of racial liberation and could be discussed purely on its jurisdictional merit. The pragmatist of Bermuda, for the most part, if tabulated, may indeed cause the support base for independence to be a majority.
However, their idea of independence is not a simple “flag independence” but is based on certain key principles relating to the individual rights of the citizens, and separation of judiciary from legislature, not just in words but through a guaranteed structure.
The issue of internal and external security within the context of Nato and maintaining a sober relationship with the United States and Canada, with continued connectivity with Britain and Europe — all of which is necessary for future peace and prosperity — are the concerns of the pragmatist.
Canada, for example, was an example of a pragmatic move towards its independence. It was a mature step that involved repatriation of its constitution. It was not the equivalent of the American war of independence, rather it was a step of maturity because the population and its legislature had developed the means of a self-sustaining democracy where there are checks and balances.
You can sit at home and watch on public TV ministers being grilled for impropriety. Not at all like the jurisdictions that we are too familiar seeing as little fiefdoms, where there are no systems of accountability or third-party international bodies to ensure that its citizens receive justice and are not prone to dictatorships.
Bermuda has no powers preventing its independence. Any move on our part is not a movement against any sovereignty; it is like kicking at open doors when the issue for us should be about what we hope to achieve, rather than what or who we are fighting against.
It always becomes a worrying matter when persons push for independence but have no drive towards a more open and inclusive democratic system. That being the case, the issue of independence belongs to the electorate and not a group of enthusiasts.
In 1995, there was a referendum on independence during which the likes of Dame Lois Browne-Evans shared the same rostrum at forums as Ann Cartwright DeCouto, ironically both arguing against any support for independence.
Contrary to false propaganda, the constitutional items on the table at the time were not controversial and provided a platform for an open ticket for bipartisan dialogue. Those against were clearly against, notwithstanding the ill-constructed format for the referendum, which had switched from its originally proposed simple majority the year before to an impossible formula because of the hard-nosed naysayers.
Yet a referendum is seen as the appropriate vehicle, and perhaps the sole change needed would be the inclusion of the clause giving power to a simple majority as in Brexit in order not to prejudice the outcome.
In September 2005, a petition representing 20,000 signatories was presented to Alex Scott, then the Premier. The petition by Bermudians For Referendum was the largest to date, with roughly the same number of votes recently given to the Progressive Labour Party but then representing a far greater percentage of the electorate. The signatories to the petition favoured a referendum as the mechanism towards independence, as opposed to being approached by way of a party platform or General Election.
With Brexit and the natural change in the structural relationship with Europe, it may indeed be a worthy debate, which may have a bearing on our future potential as a jurisdiction. However, the debate must be based on pure reasoning with the view of making a better Bermuda.
There needs to be a demonstration of intent to become a more open and accountable jurisdiction where the people have more political inclusiveness and not this see-saw “my turn, your turn” clandestine construct that has become the modus operandi, which destroyed the harmony and togetherness of the people.
If we move, we have to move as one people united and determined to forge a future together, and not by one group set upon another.